DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – One of the oldest historically black communities of Dallas still has traces of its imprint attached to present-day Dallas, but most may not have seen its origin. That’s because the remnants of the original community sit under Dallas’ Central Expressway.
East of present-day Downtown Dallas sits Booker T. Washington High School, St. Paul United Methodist Church, the former Moorland YMCA, now occupied by Dallas Black Dance Theatre. Those institutions were the centerpieces of early 20th century life for African Americans of Jim Crow Dallas.
“I’m 81-years old, and this was my neighborhood”, Dr. Robert Prince reminisced, while walking down Flora Street near Washington High. The development neighbors called “North Dallas” included a large number of stores, theatres and other businesses relegated to blacks only. Dr. Prince was a boy growing up near the heralded Thomas and Hall Streets.
“You risked your freedom going downtown, if you were not with a white man”, Dr. Prince said of the era of his great-grandfather Dock Rowen. Rowen operated a number of businesses in Black Dallas in the early 1900’s. Prohibited from social activity in the heart of Dallas, black descendants of slaves grew out of “freedman towns”, and migrated closer to the heart of the city.
“When I moved here, it was 2-3 families of blacks”, Princella Hartman remembered. At 105 years of age, Hartman still resides in the house built in 1920 on Hibernia Street. She moved there in the 30’s. Today, her street sits in the middle of what is now as Dallas’ Uptown.
The State-Thomas community is rich in history, but it was off-limits to blacks for decades. “As we moved in, the whites moved out”, Hartman said. Not far from Hartman’s long held home, the intersection of Thomas and Hall is an entry point for the thousands of residents who now occupy the apartments and townhomes of the area. Right next to the intersection sits Dallas’ Freedman’s Cemetery. The cemetery is a memorial salute to the thousands of graves that once lie in the heart of the community.
The development of Central Expressway essentially divided black Dallas, and eliminated the homes and businesses surrounding Thomas and Hall. Churches, schools, and small residential sections still exist in the area today. But Dr. Prince, and Mrs. Hartman recollect the old days of a thriving, cohesive black Dallas.
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